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When to use the word "but"

I'm doing my best to come up with a little system that can serve as a mental note of when to use the word "but".

It's a minor change that still has the power to make you more persuasive, so I'm happy to share what I've come up with so far.

Case #1: Agree and Redirect - Avoid

When you're using the "agree and redirect" frame control technique, avoid using the word "but".

Here's Lucio's note on this:

Lucio: "Note that the 'but' you place right after your agreement negates a good chunk of your previous agreement."

Ex:

Friend: "Failure is bad because each failure pushes you back in your progress toward your goals."

Ali: "I agree, but your worst failures are your best learning opportunities. So, in terms of self-development, your failures can also push you forward toward your goals."

This is how a younger Ali might have responded. Not as bad as openly or directly contradicting them, yet still not as persuasive as it could be.

So, we know that the word "but" can be used to negate your previous sentences. That means that a better response might look like this:

Friend: "Failure is bad because each failure pushes you back in your progress toward your goals."

Ali: "Yea, failure can mean it takes longer to reach that particular goal. At the same time, your worst failures are your best learning opportunities. So, in terms of self-development, your failures can also push you forward toward your goals.

Since you're avoiding the word "but", you're not negating the part where you agree. So, it sounds less like you're contradicting them which can be very rapport-breaking. And, since you're not contradicting them, the other side will feel less of a need to "argue back" their point.

Case #1: Agree and Redirect - How To Know

How do you know when to use "but" here?

Ask yourself if you're seeking to use the "agree and redirect" technique. If yes, swap the word "but" with "yet", or use quick phrases to redirect such as "on the other hand" or "at the same time".

Case #2: Making a Point or Delivering News - Consider

When you want to make a point or deliver news, you can use "but" to negate the negative parts of what you're going to say which better presents the positive parts.

Here's a note I made on this earlier:

Ex:

You: "We've had some great progress on our goals, but we need to address certain failures."

Notice the order in which you delivered this news. You led with a positive and transitioned to a negative. So, by using "but" here, you're emphasizing the negative by negating the positive.

A better delivery might look like this:

You: "We need to address certain failures, but we've had some great progress on our goals."

In this example of delivering news, while the word "failure" might sound harsh, the sentence sounds far better than the alternative above.

In the case of making a point, I'll reference an example from the movie Honest Thief:

Annie: "He's flawed, but he's a good man."

In this case, Annie's acknowledging the negative when she presents it, and transitions to the positive part of her point while negating the negative. And, at least for me, it makes you feel like she might be right. After all, who doesn't have flaws?

Along the theme of failure, here's an example of making a point using "but" strategically:

Ali: "I failed, but it's in the past now."

Case #2: Making a Point or Delivering News - How To Know

I haven't seen a lot of examples of this being done well. So, for right now, perhaps a good way to know if you should use "but" here is to ask yourself if you're making a point or delivering news. If yes, say the negative parts first and then transition to the positive using "but".

*Note: Making a point here means that you're not taking what the person you're looking to persuade said and frame negotiating it. You're presenting your own frame and that might mean you're not pulling from anyone else's sentence to deliver your own. In cases where you have to "go first" (make your point/state your frame first), using "but" can be great to negate the negative and keep the conversation oriented on the positive.

Case #3: Justifying - Avoid

Avoid using the word "but" to explain why you shouldn't receive negative judgment.

Ex:

You: "I know donating to charity is good, but I've given $100 already."

You used the word "but" to negate your previous sentence which was already a positive. So, it sounds like you're using the word "but" to defend yourself.

Better, might be to avoid the word "but". Instead, use the "agree and redirect" techniques to better persuade the other side.

You: "Yes, I know donating to charity is good. That's why I gave $100."

Now, it sounds less like you're justifying yourself in an effort to avoid negative judgment from the other party.

Case #3: Justifying - How To Know

Once again, you can ask yourself if you want to use the "agree and redirect" technique when the other side is trying to push you on the defensive or if you feel like you need to defend yourself. Then, instead of being verbally submissive by using "but" the way it was used above, use the recommended "agree and redirect" techniques.


If anyone wants to share their thoughts below, I'd be happy to reply back with more of my own thoughts and discuss :).

Lucio Buffalmano and Matthew Whitewood have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoMatthew Whitewood

Thank you for sharing such an in-depth post on using the word "but"!
Such as a common word but the nuances can be profound.

I have been practising the usage on Case 1: Agree and Redirect.

Quote from Ali Scarlett on January 1, 2021, 7:53 am

Case #2: Making a Point or Delivering News - Consider

When you want to make a point or deliver news, you can use "but" to negate the negative parts of what you're going to say which better presents the positive parts.

I thought negating the negative parts is particularly interesting.
I could see how this plays out in several cases

Giving Negative Feedback

You can usually find something positive to say at the end.
Go for the tough feedback first then follow up with the positive points.
Using "but" could work well in this case.

Alleviating Negative Emotions In A Person

Acknowledge the negative emotions.
Introduce a positive point with "but".

Example to a De-motivated Sales Rep:

You: We lost this major deal. That must be frustrating. I feel that too. But we have closed 10 other mid-sized deals. We are doing relatively well.

I would not use this on more serious occasions like the passing of a close family member or friend.
Because that would come across as trivialising the matter and emotion.

Quote from Ali Scarlett on January 1, 2021, 7:53 am

Case #3: Justifying - Avoid

Avoid using the word "but" to explain why you shouldn't receive negative judgment.

Ex:

You: "I know donating to charity is good, but I've given $100 already."

I thought this is an interesting example of the bad use of the word "but".
Here it sounds defensive and justifying as you said.

A simple re-phrasing becomes a re-framing of the situation to showcase your social credit of donating $100 while framing that both of you are on the same page.

Some ideas of other cases where using "but" is appropriate.

Objective Neutral Discussions

I use "but" when I would like to present an opinion objectively and showcase the good & bad points.
For example, on this forum, I use "but" to present my view of the pros & cons of a concept on a topic.

Erasing Your Own Credit To Put Less Pressure On A Gift Recipient

Friend: Wow, this is too much. I really like this gift. Thank you.

You: I did recall that you love this! But it's no big deal. The shop is on the way for me.

Ali Scarlett and Maxim Levinsky have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettMaxim Levinsky

Thanks for sharing that, Matthew!

*Bonus: Objective Neutral Discussions

In terms of objective neutral discussions, I find that I can appear more objective using the "agree and redirect" technique on my own statement.

So, for example:

Ali: "So, the cons of taking the time to practice using the word "but" are slim. Chances are it might not make much of a difference in your sales calls and bigger negotiations. On the other hand, the word "but" is important for effective frame control and proper use of positive sentence structure, both of which are important for being more persuasive in your day-to-day interactions. So, perhaps we can agree that practicing it wouldn't be a total waste of time."

By saying "on the other hand" instead of "but", I can seem like I'm looking at things from both sides rather than trying to move from one side of my opinion (not practicing this) to another (practicing this).

Case #4: Erasing Your Social Credit To Alleviate Pressure On Receiver - Consider

Awesome note! I hadn't thought of this one at all, but it seems like it could work really well.

Case #4: Erasing Your Social Credit To Alleviate Pressure On Receiver - How To Know

Look for signs of the other side feeling pressure after receiving a high-value gift. According to the law of social exchange, they could be feeling the need to give back a gift of equal value and are now stressing about it a bit.

So, you can incorporate "but" into your social credit-erasing if you decide you want to leverage the social exchange to alleviate some of their pressure.


Hope you're enjoying your New Years Day, Matthew!

Matthew Whitewood and Maxim Levinsky have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodMaxim Levinsky

Always a pleasure Ali!

By saying "on the other hand" instead of "but", I can seem like I'm looking at things from both sides rather than trying to move from one side of my opinion (not practicing this) to another (practicing this).

That makes sense.
Better to frame perspectives as not opposing. Which is what "but" does.
"But" would paint a more black and white discussion.
People would be more likely to pick and choose from both perspectives and form new opinions.

_________________________________________________________________________

Have a fantastic New Years Day!
Glad we could take away so much on the usage of such a deceivingly, common word at the start of the year.

Case #5: Validate Their Feelings and Redirect - Avoid

To agree and redirect is great to persuade. When you can't use that technique, however, another great way to persuade is to validate their feelings and redirect. But, if you use "but", you will negate the part that enables your approach to be persuasive. For example:

You: "Look, I understand what you're saying, but..."

Immediately, they might begin to wonder whether or not you actually understand what they're saying. Your use of the word "but" right after negated the part where you said you understand them, which can lead them to wonder, "Do you really understand?"

*Note: This is also why Chris Voss recommends mirroring (i.e. repeating the last one to three words of what they just said). That way, there's no confusion as to whether or not you're listening, you just proved it to them by repeating back to them what they just said. And, that way, even if you don't understand, if you decide to say that you do they're more likely to believe you.

A better approach might be:

You: "Look, I understand what you're saying, so here's what I'm thinking..."

Of course, you could use the "agree and redirect" techniques to transition (such as saying "yet"), but this is another great way to do it.

Case #5: Validate Their Feelings and Redirect - How To Know

Ask if yourself if you're looking to use the "validate and redirect" technique. Then, just accordingly by avoiding the word "but".

NOTES:

"Case #2" describes how to use "but" as a negate technique to make your message more positive. Yet, there are cases where you actually want to be somewhat negative to make your point, in which case "Case #2" becomes a bit tricky. And, that's where I've been confusing myself. For example, when you're blowing off the cover of someone's covertly aggressive joke:

Aggressor: "It was just a joke."

Ali: "Yea, I understand it was only a joke. And, I agree it was joke. You like making jokes and you like making people laugh. But, that joke wasn't funny."

In that case, I purposefully, seek to negate my previous sentences so you focus on my ending note: your joke wasn't funny. And, that allows me to be more assertive since the focus on the ending note allows for a focus on what's happening in this interaction: me drawing my boundaries.

So, that makes things confusing because before you decide to use "but" or not, you have to ask yourself, "Is what I just said positive or negative?" And, whether something is positive or not is totally subjective. What's considered positive to one might be a negative to another.

So, from now, I'm only using "but" depending on whether I'm seeking to use frame control or to make sure I'm not justifying myself. In any other case, I'm using "but" depending on whether or not I feel like it.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

Side note:  My friend who's reasonably senior in govt IT says to use 'however' instead.  Says its not as strong on the negative.  Not sure about that one.

 

Maxim Levinsky has reacted to this post.
Maxim Levinsky

Haven't read every single word so far, BUT it does indeed look like a great thread :).

Yes, just a simple swap with "however", "and at the same time", are already small-yet-big step forwards.

EMPHASIZING THE "BUT"

Another technique is to actually emphasize that but.
It might seem strange, but sometimes that little "but" right after an agreement can make people come across as slightly passive-aggressive, like you want to avoid direct confrontation so you throw a facade of "yes, true", but you actually disagree.

Paradoxically, by stressing out that but, you come across as more direct and assertive, less sneaky.
And it can set up an unspoken frame of two high-value guys who can be tough on ideas (strong "buts"), while also being respectful to people, and not take things personally.

It's like saying "BUT, listen me out now, I think you're missing something, and the only reason why I'm being so direct is that I respect you and want to have this open and straight talk with you".

Transitioned and Maxim Levinsky have reacted to this post.
TransitionedMaxim Levinsky
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

So if I'm understanding Lucio like:

"..then BUT we should also look at that from the customer point of view.  And I'd be interested in your thoughts on that."

Gets your point into play but gives the stage/power back to them.

Yeah, this "emphasis technique" is especially good/suited when you have something major to add or say.

As a rule of thumb:

The bigger your "but" the more you want to be upfront about it

Because the bigger it is, the more sneaky you can come across if you try to "slip it in".

Stewie in this skit uses "and" instead of but, but the concept is the same:

Notice how he says "AND, AND...", it's not confrontational, but it draws attention to what he needs to say in a respectful, collaborative way, if you will.

You can use the same emphasis on the "but", when the occasion calls for it.

Stef and Maxim Levinsky have reacted to this post.
StefMaxim Levinsky
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Yea, so far, I've found that the emphasized "BUT" works best when you're making your initial point.

Then, if the other side argues back, you can use the "agree and redirect" and "validate and redirect" frame control techniques to persuade them to your point of view. A point of view that's already been made clear from your initial, bold emphasization.

So, you don't come across as sneaky, while still achieving the same positive end results. And, you possibly come across as more charismatic in the process for the assertive, honest directness coupled with the collaborative approach which is leaderlike.

Here's a made-up example:

Ali: (delivers belief/POV) Competitve frames are benficial in the short-run. (makes standpoint clear) BUT, collaborative frames are far more superior for your success and social power.

Him: (contradicts) No, there's a reason there's a saying that goes, "It's a dog eat dog world." People are naturally selfish and transactional, so you have to be vicious to get what you want or they'll take and take until you have nothing left.

Ali: (agrees) Yea, people are naturally transactional. I agree with you there. (redirects) That's also why if you position yourself as a collaborator by giving, they'll be more encouraged to give back to you. That way, you'll be more encouraged to keep giving to them. And, you still benefit in the process. (moves back to intial standpoint) So, as long as you find the right collaborators, you can set up win-wins that make everyone better off for longer periods of time."

So, from this point forward, I think I might lead with an emphasized "BUT", then use the frame control techniques to persuade them to my side.

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Lucio Buffalmano
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